No matter how much praise captain Virat Kohli heaped on his bowlers for earning those Sri Lankan wickets, and the truth is they didn’t come easy, an away Test win rarely comes as such a formality as it did in Galle.
After Shikhar Dhawan laid the foundations with a monumental knock on day one and Sri Lanka lost valuable batsman and fifth bowler Asela Gunaratne to a broken thumb (ruled out of the series), it was inevitable the Test would only have one outcome – an India win.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s hundred, Sri Lanka’s inexperience and naive shot-making, a Kohli ton and the Indian spinners wrapping it up with an entire day to spare, all then became regulation as the tourists sauntered to a 304-run victory.
As for the hosts, a blow to veteran Rangana Herath’s middle finger while fielding – it had to be his bowling hand – added insult to injury.
Sri Lanka will be indeed hoping their luck changes in the remaining two Tests – starting in Colombo on Thursday.
The fact India had to take 17 and not 20 wickets to go one-up in the series explains everything in itself. If that doesn’t, the fact it was India’s biggest-ever away win in terms of margin of victory, certainly does (their previous best being the 279-run triumph against England at Headingley 31 years ago).
For captain Herath and his men, it was their heaviest Test defeat and needless to say had him commenting post-match: “We are a better team than this.”
Amidst all of this, India think they have found an all-rounder in Hardik Pandya, who made his Test debut at Galle. The faith team management and captain placed in him was all too evident when he got the nod ahead of Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, who had actually enjoyed a fine debut Test against Australia at Dharamsala earlier this year.
While the pitch wasn’t as favourable for a bowler like Pandya who likes to hit the deck hard, he still had a decent game.
What was absorbing to hear though, especially if you’re Pandya, were Kohli’s words in his press conference when asked about what the 23-year-old brings to the Men in Blue.
“First innings, he didn’t get the opportunity to bowl much but I think in the second innings, he bowled really nicely on a wicket that wasn’t offering much and he kept it in the right areas,” Kohli, who himself got back to form with an unbeaten ton, said.
“He used the bouncer well and bowls around 135kph, when he bends his back he can bowl faster. He is a great asset.”
Pandya bowled 10 overs in the Test and claimed the solitary wicket of Nuwan Pradeep. While his bowling was solid, the Mumbai Indians’ star’s batting spoke for itself. He hit five fours and three sixes in his 50-run knock from 49 balls, while having to refuse some runs, thanks to tail-enders at the other end.
It’s early days but there were signs Pandya will go on to play similar knocks in the future.
The newbie’s greatest challenge, and what he will face in the next couple of Tests, is the tag of becoming India’s all-important fifth bowler away from home. It’s perhaps a luxury position for most teams but it’s one that comes with plenty of scrutiny. Many teams face a similar dilemma though.
New Zealand, for example, have been searching for a pace bowling all-rounder and have given both Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme a go, with not great rewards thus far.
South Africa too haven’t found someone as capable and skillful as the legendary Jacques Kallis. Faf du Plessis recently called Vernon Philander ‘the new Kallis’, but he’s some distance away from that privilege – despite his skill with the ball. Likewise, Chris Morris, the talented Proteas quick who at times can struggle for consistency.
For Australia, Mitchell Marsh has been trying for a while to revive his fortunes in Test cricket.
So that leads us to Ben Stokes, arguably the best Test all-rounder in world cricket, across all formats. And Kohli thinks Pandya can emulate Stokes in the future. Can he? Could he? Will he?
“When you play away from home, one guy [the all-rounder] gives you a lot of balance, and I think Hardik can be that guy going ahead, especially playing so much cricket away from home.
“If he grows in confidence – you see someone like Ben Stokes, what he does for England. An all-rounder brings great balance and I see no reason why Hardik Pandya can’t become that for India,” said Kohli.
While Pandya had his feet up after playing his maiden Test in Sri Lanka, Stokes delivered a Man-of-the-Match performance against South Africa, with his century turning the match in the hosts’ favour at the Oval. The Durham man claimed three wickets too and always seems to be involved in the key moments.
It’s too early to say whether Pandya can mirror Stokes in the coming years, but with continued backing from Kohli, there’s no reason why he can’t prove to be just as effective if he nails down that berth.
Stokes’ dogged approach has been key in sky-rocketing his stature and as for Pandya, we’ll have to wait and see as to what really drives him. Only time will tell.